The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office may have a greater presence county schools in the coming weeks as the county’s board of supervisors considered additional funding to post deputies at all 15 schools during a meeting Tuesday.
Blackwater District representative Ronnie Mitchell made the request for armed officers at each school to prevent a possible shooting. He said the county needed to be proactive in preparing for a possible shooting and asked that officers be posted in schools as soon as the following day.
Mitchell asked that county staff develop a safety plan for all schools along with costs. Until the plan is in place, Mitchell asked the county to find temporary funding that would be used to pay the overtime of officers posted at schools.
With budget discussions currently underway, Mitchell said he would be willing to support a 1-cent increase to the county’s real estate tax to fund an officer in each school. “I would be willing to be that supervisor to suggest that tax raise,” he said. “It is our duty to protect our children no matter the cost.”
A school resource officer is currently stationed at the high school and middle school on school days. Officers also visit each of the county’s elementary schools during patrols.
Sheriff Bill Overton said he supported the plan to have officers stationed at each school.
Snow Creek District representative and Board Chairman Leland Mitchell questioned if the Franklin County School Board should have any input in the issue before moving forward. He suggested waiting to take action on the issue until the two boards meet at a joint budget work session set for Monday at 6:30 p.m.
“If the schools are happy with it then I am happy with it, but I think we have to go through the school system because it is their property,” Mitchell said.
Also on Tuesday, Gills Creek District representative Lorie Smith asked that supervisors once again consider moving the county’s real estate tax collections to twice a year. The issue was discussed in 2018, but the motion failed when a majority of supervisors voted against it.
Smith said the move to twice a year billing would create a one-time surplus in revenue for the county. That surplus was been estimated to be as much as $18 million during discussions in 2018.
Smith said the additional funds for the county could go to paying down debt and help to fund needed projects such as a new career and technical education center at the high school. The funds could also help in preventing a future tax increase for the county, she said.
“I think it is a win-win for our county and our citizens,” Smith said.
Union Hall District representative Tommy Cundiff, one of the opponents of twice a year billing when it was introduced in 2018, once again expressed his disapproval for the proposal. He questioned why the county should require citizens to pay twice a year when they can already pay their real estate tax at multiple times throughout the year if they would like.
“I am totally, totally against it,” Cundiff said. “I don’t believe in putting something on the people that they can pay any time they want to.”
Following the discussion, Smith made a motion to move forward with the proposal. Supervisors voted 4-2 to set a public hearing date on the issue. Cundiff and Mitchell both opposed the motion.
Supervisors approved the next step in building a new fire station in Glade Hill during Tuesday’s meeting. Members unanimously approved seeking bids for designs of the new fire station proposed at the corner of Virginia 40 and Turtle Hill Road.
Changes to the public comment times during supervisor meetings was also passed on Tuesday. Supervisors agreed to change the current format that required citizens to notify the county a week in advance before being allowed to speak at a meeting. Citizens now will be provided with a sign up sheet at the start of each meeting if they would like to comment.
Supervisors also agreed to add an additional public comment period at the end of each meeting in addition to the one at the beginning of meetings. The later public comment period would be provided for anyone who was unable to attend the 1:30 p.m. start of the board meetings, which are on the third Tuesday of each month.
Blue Ridge District representative Tim Tatum also requested that supervisors consider a brief dialogue with citizens who provide public comments to the board. During most public comment periods, supervisors do not interact with those speaking.
“If they take the time to come here and speak and take time off of work to be here, then they ought to get some feedback from us so at least they know that we heard them,” Tatutm said.
While additional time for supervisors to address a speaker was not added to the public comment rules, Rocky Mount District representative Mike Carter noted that Mitchell had the authority as the board’s chairman to address speakers during the public comment period when necessary.